Every Yankees fan I know is talking about Aaron Judge. There’s no escaping it. After hitting a season-best 495-foot home run two days ago, the whole baseball world is buzzing about the fact that, yeah, we know this guy is for real, but it still doesn’t sink in even when you’re watching him hit bombs. He sets an expectation, and then shatters it the next day. That’s why he’s must-see television right now.
The most remarkable thing about him so far isn’t the long home runs, or the amount of them, it’s that he’s still hot—on June 13th. Sure, a hot April and then a season of slightly-better-than-league-average performance still would have made him a 120 wRC+ hitter and still the likely Rookie of the Year, but he has essentially maintained his April performance through today. Here’s his 15-game wRC+ rolling average:
He notably fell into a slight “slump” at the end of April into May, and yet, there he is, May through June, creeping that batting line back up into the stratosphere. It makes sense—we know he’s amazing--but still, it’s incredibly remarkable that he has maintained a Babe Ruth-esque offensive line into the summer.
Let’s take a look at that “slump” for a second. If anything, this slump shows what a seemingly perfect hitter Judge has been, because it has largely been the pitchers’ errors. From the beginning of the season to May 3rd, the peak of that above chart, here’s how pitchers were throwing to him:
We know this is bad (or good for Judge). Do not throw to him down the middle like that. Then in his “slump,” where he was still a ~150 wRC+ hitter, pitchers threw to him like this:
You can see an adjustment. More pitches away from the heart of the zone, both trying to blow it past him up high and soft stuff low and away. It kind of worked. And then, they reverted to their poor ways from May 23rd until now:
There’s just way more in the middle of the plate, and we know that’s bad by the eye, but it’s even more stark seeing his slugging percentage by zone:
I don’t know how to put this any more clearly: do not throw Judge any pitches in the middle of the zone. Just don’t. You will lose.
There are obviously reasons why Judge’s current pace is unsustainable. For one, he has a whopping .432 BABIP. That’s obviously going to die down to something like .300-.350, but even so, he had a .310 BABIP in April with a 201 wRC+. It’s not like he’s going to become bad.
Secondly, you can tell there are still pitcher adjustments to be made. Pitchers are trying to throw him more hard stuff (according to Brooks Baseball), and that hasn’t worked, namely because his highest balls-in-play percentages are for the cutter, sinker, and fastball. According to those above graphs, they’re still throwing him pitches in the heart of the zone! As long as that keeps happening, he will keep smashing baseballs out of the ballpark.
It’s hard to put into words how good Judge is. And it’s even harder to put into words that he isn’t regressing one bit. A tendency among the sabermetrically inclined is to constantly pump the brakes, to push back against the immediate baseball reaction of assuming that the good start will last forever. For anyone else on the planet, I would be telling you to sell your shares in this player.
Aaron Judge is a completely different breed of baseball player, though, and the old rules don’t apply. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be worse from now until the end of the year than he was until now, but frankly, I can’t imagine how worse. We couldn’t believe he could do what he’s done, so at this point, it would not shock me if he was the best hitter in baseball when this season is said and done.